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Let me start by saying that I haven’t always been a fan of Scott Cantrell’s reviews. Before he and other Dallas Morning News writers accepted buyouts last week, the classical music critic spent 16 years building a small but loyal readership via his brash and often downright arrogant rants on everything from FWSO conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya’s pre-concert talks to the label of maestro being afforded to female conductors.

The DMN editor Mike Wilson said the buyouts are “part of an effort to make the newsroom more digitally minded.”

Cantrell and I have very different approaches to arts criticism. I believe that a critic should lovingly and insightfully describe a performance or recording, to call it like it is. That end should be served by the critic’s voice, not his or her ego. But as much as I disagreed with his often confrontational and sensational approach, I can already feel the loss of his voice in the arts community, and I’m sure many people in the classical music field do as well.

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I know from experience that in the often underfunded classical music world there is no such thing as bad press. As a volunteer with the Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth, I’ve read dozens of our reviews over the years. I’ve seen writers come from Dallas only to blast what seemed, to me, to have been a thoughtful and quality performance. Without exception, we share those reviews, good or bad, with our supporters on social media because CMSFW appreciates the time and effort that go into reviewing a concert and know the articles really do draw audiences.

And still, the role of the critic is a controversial one. (Never mind the fact that the beloved Romantic era composer Robert Schumann and literary icon Edgar Allen Poe made a living at the profession).

With Cantrell’s absence, at least for the time being, there is one less voice telling the story of some small theater company or new chamber music group to the wider audience. Fort Worth Weekly is holding down the cultural fort with film/music/theater critic Kristian Lin, veteran ballet reviewer Leonard Eureka, and myself working to fill the spread. (It’s worth mentioning that not only has Weekly not cut print space allotted for arts coverage, we’ve expanded our arts-related content through our blogs.) Other notable arts critics include Olin Chism, Punch Shaw, and Mark Lowry at the Star-Telegram, but even that paper’s arts section is dwindling.

While I should be glad for the loss of competition, I can’t help worry about the implications for the wider arts community as yet another major newspaper substitutes an arts column for ad space and effectively shuts one more door between the public and the fine arts.

Freelancer Edward Brown is a contributing writer to Fort Worth Weekly. Brown serves on the board of the Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts and Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth. He is also a full-time private piano instructor.

3 COMMENTS

  1. A significant loss for local music criticism. I’ll miss him in the press room at the next Van Cliburn Competition.

  2. Whatever Mr. Brown may think of my work overall, had he read my actual blog post, rather than Katie Womack’s willful and irresponsible distortion of it on the D Magazine blog, he would know that I neither wrote nor implied any disrespect toward female conductors. My post was purely about the overapplication of the word “maestro” to virtually any conductor. I maintain that it’s an honorific applicable only to conductors of considerable experience and accomplishment. I have no quibble whatsoever with female conductors; if anything I’m an advocate for them. I have written positive and negative reviews of both male and female conductors. The gender makes no difference whatsoever to me.

    For the record, here is my actual blog post, from June 11, 2014:

    “Can we give the much overworked word “maestro” a rest?

    “It probably shouldn’t be applied to any musician under age 50, and then only to the most distinguished ones. Calling virtually anyone with a baton in hand a “maestro” cheapens the honorific pretty much as automatic standing ovations have rendered that formerly rare accolade meaningless.”

  3. Mr. Cantrell’s 2009 suggestion that Tsujii’s win at the Cliburn was due to sympathy for his blindness was one of the grossest falsehoods I have seen in print. Cantrell apparently has no ear for piano tone or expression. Fortunately, we professional musicians in the audience and the judges recognized the beauty and emotional connection in his playing. The fact that he did not gaze heavenward with a phony facial grimace, wave his arms gracefully about, bound on stage imperiously or wear a stunning gown did not prevent us from hearing that his playing touched the heart as no other contestant could.

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